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BioWare's founding doctors leave video games behind

The video game industry lost two of its biggest champions for interactive storytelling on Tuesday, as BioWare founders Doctors Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk announced they were moving on to non-gaming ventures.

Frank Cifaldi, Contributor

September 18, 2012

4 Min Read

The two founding members of longstanding RPG studio BioWare have resigned from the company -- and, at least for now, the entire video game industry. Doctors Ray Muzyka and Greg Zeschuk, who were instrumental in the development of well-respected titles including Mass Effect, Baldur's Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, announced their retirement from video games on BioWare's company blog on Tuesday. "I’ve reached an unexpected point in my life where I no longer have the passion that I once did for the company, for the games, and for the challenge of creation," Zeschuk writes, while Muzyka mentions a "need now to move on to a new chapter in my career." "I’ve largely personally achieved what I wanted in video games," says Muzyka, with Zeschuk adding that he's "not going to be working in games for a while, and there’s a strong possibility that I won’t be back." BioWare, which was independently founded in 1995 by Muzyka, Zeschuk and fellow University of Alberta medical doctor graduate Augustine Yip, became a division of publishing giant Electronic Arts in 2007 through a series of mergers and acquisitions. Notably, today's news comes exactly five years after that deal was struck. Under its new ownership, BioWare was tasked with creating its most ambitious project yet: Star Wars: The Old Republic, a massively-multiplayer online RPG that is rumored to be the most expensive video game production in history.

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The venture hasn't been going well: after a moderate start, the game lost many of its monthly subscribers almost immediately, and has yet to recover. Development studio BioWare Austin subsequently saw a round of layoffs that included the game's executive producer. And after less than a year on the market, the game is turning to the free-to-play model in order to try and recoup development costs that are estimated to be as high as $150 million. By the end of their tenure, the two docs were overseeing the most expensive online game in the world, a rapidly growing pool of studios, and an entire division of a video game publishing giant, but their roles weren't always this complicated.

A storytelling legacy

The formation of BioWare is a unique story in game development history. In the mid-90s, co-founders Muzyka, Zeschuk and Yip, who met while studying at the University of Alberta, were practicing medical doctors with an affinity for unwinding by playing computer games. The trio pooled together the $100,000 necessary to found the company and, in 1996, shipped Shattered Steel for publisher Interplay, a 3D combat game with players piloting giant robots inspired by the MechWarrior game series. It was the company's next game, however, that set the stage for what BioWare would be known for: 1998's Baldur's Gate, a story-driven role-playing game based in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, was praised for its intricately crafted narrative and its mature themes. Baldur's Gate is often credited with reviving the RPG genre, and ushered in a new age that was mostly dominated by follow-up BioWare efforts that included a sequel, a separate Neverwinter Nights franchise, the LucasArts-licensed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and, in modern times, sci-fi trilogy Mass Effect and the fantasy-themed Dragon Age.

Rapid growth

In 2005, outside investment led by then-former Electronic Arts president John Riccitiello saw BioWare merging with Destroy All Humans! maker Pandemic into one "super-developer" (then called VG Holdings). That parent company was acquired by Electronic Arts in 2007, which saw Riccitiello returning to the company as its new CEO. BioWare continued as its own independent brand under its new ownership, and in 2009 a restructuring saw BioWare merging with EA-owned Mythic Entertainment into the BioWare Group, an umbrella name covering all of EA's RPG and MMO development. That group, led by both Muzyka and Zeschuk, rapidly expanded to six studios as EA continued rebranding and reshuffling its studios under the BioWare banner. Zeschuk temporarily led BioWare Austin as it completed The Old Republic but, for the most part, the roles of the two doctors expanded from leading a game studio to leading an entire division of a major publisher.

What's next

It looks as if for now, the docs are splitting up. Muzyka says he will be investing in and mentoring new entrepreneurs who are looking to impact sustainable social change. "For me, getting involved in social impact investment stems from the simple hope of helping the world to be a better place," he writes. As for Zeschuk, he's following his passion too, though one that's a little more grounded: his love of beer. "The main project I will be working on is a web-based interview show called The Beer Diaries where I interview notable brewers and showcase their beers," he writes. "If things go well, I’ll work on other beer-related shows, apps and projects. "If not, I’ll have drunk a lot of tasty beers and may be back in games or even something else completely different." Photo: Jacob Kepler

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